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John Turturro on Why He Starred in ‘Transformers’ After Resisting Tentpoles, Working With Woody Allen

Variety logo Variety 5/1/2017 Addie Morfoot
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“The Late Show” host Stephen Colbert worked his second job — Montclair Film Festival moderator — over the weekend.

On Sunday as part of the sixth annual fest’s conversation series, the comedian, a Montclair resident, quizzed “The Night Of” star John Turturro about his prolific career on stage, in film, and television.

The actor-director spoke about his upbringing in Queens and how his Italian parents, with no ties to the entertainment industry, helped spawn his career trajectory after he realized that he was never going to be a professional basketball player. “I realized that it came naturally to hold friends’ attention and tell these exaggerated stories because that’s what everyone did in my family,” the thesp said.

As for convincing fellow New Yorker, Woody Allen, to act in Turturro’s 2013 film, “Fading Gigolo,” the actor said it took a while.

“(Woody) said, ‘You write the script and I will help you edit it,’” he explained. “So I sent him my first draft and he basically excoriated it. It was fatal. It was death.” But eventually, after “many, many drafts and being merciless,” Allen signed on and was “fun to work with.”

Turturro also spoke about working with directors Spike Lee, the Coen brothers, and Robert De Niro on “The Good Shepherd,” and Michael Bay on the “Transformers” films.

“(De Niro) liked to do a lot of takes,” Turturro said. “I spent three days saying one line and torturing some guy. Bob was like, ‘You gotta keep doing it.’ The whole crew, after three days was going out of their minds.”

As for “Transformers,” Turturro said playing Agent Simmons has been a good experience, even though Bay doesn’t have many answers. “When you ask him a question (about your character) he goes, ‘When you see the movie, you’ll understand.’”

The actor explained that for most of his career he has resisted tentpoles, but his son convinced him to do the “Transformers” series.

“I never used to do these big, giant films because there used to be medium-sized films,” he said. “But now there are no medium-sized films. There are small films or giant films. Thank god for television.”

HBO’s “The Night Of” reminded the actor of one of those old, medium-sized movies he used to make.

“It was beautifully written and had nuance to it. And my role (lawyer John Stone) was so interesting too, because (John) had the capability of being a great lawyer, but he didn’t have the stomach for it,” Turturro said. “It reminded me of some people that I know in different careers.”

Turturro can next be seen in “Going Places,” a film he directed and stars in as Jesus Quintana, the bowler he made iconic in the Coen brothers’ “The Big Lebowski.”

“You know that there are people all over the United States who now lick their bowling ball because of you,” Colbert commented.

“I feel good about that actually, but I don’t think it really helps,” Turturro said, laughing.

The Montclair Film Festival runs through May 7.

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